So Facebook has launched “Safety Check” aimed at people living/working in disaster areas enabling them to easily communicate to their loved that they are safe or to easily find out who is safe. In many ways this is very similar to “Person Finder” run by Google during emergencies. Both tools are a great ways for families in-country and globally to reconnect and trace each other. Safety Check will work by tracking the user’s last known location and if its one of of the known areas to be affected by a natural disaster, Facebook will send a push notification to the user asking if s/he is ok. If the user is ok, s/he can select “I’m safe” and a news feed post and notification are generated. If Facebook gets the user’s location wrong, this also can be communicated. I’m sure there will be various initial issues with the system and that some people (like me) don’t like the idea of Facebook tracking my location, but I think it has great potential for reducing many families stress levels.
To me this is a great example of technology enabling people affected by disasters rather than something being done to them. Enabling families to this themselves is much better than relying on the government, NGOs, or anyone else as families will bring immense passion and drive to the search that no hired hand will ever be able to match. Hopefully the humanitarian community will jump on board with this and work to integrate it into their family tracing and reunification processes rather than try to “compete” with it.
Ideally, this will be integrated into the CDAC Network’s resources, especially their message library as well so that communities who are affected know about it and will use it. Since Facebook has developed a stripped down version of itself called “Facebook For Every Phone” which operates on non-smartphones, it has acquired millions of users in emerging markets. Therefore, “Safety Check” is not only for smartphone users with data plans of a certain socio-economic class, but helps to expand the reach.
Now that Facebook has joined the fray, I assume Amazon and Apple will not be wait long to join – for the families impacted by disasters, I hope the wait is not long as the more tools we have the better.